…by Iulia / from Romania / studying Environmental Geoscience / 4th year
Choosing to study abroad and come to Scotland has given me the opportunity to become familiar with this country in a variety of ways, throughout the four years of my degree. Getting to know its people, music, food, climate, clothing and traditions by means of everyday life or during celebrations, national days and events, has put my academic experience here in a multi-faceted and rich context. There was just one piece of the puzzle missing: exploring the Scottish landscape by stepping on Isle of Skye and complementing in this way my experience of the Highlands, which I have visited a couple of times in previous years.
I decided to finally unveil this ultimate mystery Scotland held for me during a weekend-long trip with a group of international students. Over the two days, we winded our way through the Highlands on a coach, stopping often to do short hikes or take pictures, and after reaching Isle of Skye on Saturday evening, we spent half of the next day discovering some of its major landmarks and enjoying breathtaking views over the snow-capped mountains and glacier-carved valleys.
My expectations concerning the weather were quite low, as the forecast was predicting rain and hail for the whole weekend up in the Highlands. But the luck was on our side for the first day. Every time we were on the bus, rain was pouring down the windows, and as soon as we got off to enjoy views of lochs such as Tulla and Lochy, or wander through picturesque, coquettish villages such as Luss, the sun came out and the clouds dispersed as quickly as they had gathered. When we left Fort William as the hail just started battering the windows, the skies cleared as we headed for our next destination and it seemed to me we were in a weird kind of competition with the elements of Nature…One constant, though, followed us all across the Highlands: the wind, so strong and cold, it made me think of how resistant the trees up there must be, with their barren branches constantly dancing to that unhuman rhythm.
The short hike we did in Glencoe among the rocky hems of the Three Sisters, the iconic peaks surrounding the valley, offered me a taste of how challenging hill-walking can be in Scotland. It is actually here in the Highland mountains that Edmund Hillary completed his training before setting out to be the first person to conquer the Everest. We were introduced to the landscape not only by exploring it by foot, but by getting to know the historical importance of the places where we were, too. Glencoe was, in the 17th century, the setting of a massacre ordered by the king to punish Clan MacDonald for taking a belated oath of allegiance. This tragedy is commemorated in a song which we listened to on the coach. There is such melancholic poetry in associating landscapes with music, as I once again realised while listening to The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond after having admired its beauty.
Isle of Skye made me link, a hundredth time, the science I learned in my Geoscience courses with the majestic charm of a natural setting. The geological forces operating since the creation of our planet to shape a landscape, to carry rocks through repeated cycles of destruction and re-formation, all for us to take a glimpse of during our lifetimes, are a frightening spectacle to think of. I hiked through snow and wind to the Old Man of Storr pinnacle, took in the view of the Kilt Rock – such an authentic Scottish appropriation of a series of columnar basalt joints – and admired the beautiful Mealt Fall, freefalling for more than 50m directly into the sea. At Portree heavy snow suddenly engulfed the town, and the wild way it slashed my face was completely different from the soft texture of snow falling down in the cities. And I instantly associated it with Scotland’s eerily enchanting way to welcome its visitors.
This short trip to northern Scotland made me wish I will one day come back and admire the scenery in another season as well, with more time to spend in the hills and less on the coach. Until then, I will rejoice in remembering the memories I have made in this country as a student, both in Edinburgh and outside the city, where I discovered its beauty in a different way.